This was “Cross-Over” week, when all of the Senate’s final approved bills cross-over to the House of Delegates for their consideration, and we in the Senate begin to consider those pieces of legislation that have likewise previously passed the House.
Twelve of my Senate bills have advanced to the House and are currently in the queue to be heard by the appropriate House committees. I will present each of these bills to my House colleagues and they will vote on each of them in the same fashion that we did in the Senate. Those of my bills that are subsequently approved in the House will then proceed to the Governor for his review before signing them into law. For the past nine years as your Senator, I have always tried to propose legislation that will serve the interests and needs of the citizens of Southside and Southwest Virginia, and this year is no different.
The political unrest surrounding the circumstances of our Governor, our Lt. Governor and Attorney General are both serious and disturbing, and have created a significant distraction for the normal legislative process of the General Assembly, which by its very nature, is demanding enough on its own merits. Every week there seems to be more accusations and revelations against Virginia’s executive branch, and those accusations and revelations may, or may not be ever be fully understood — but what is clear is that the fallout of the scandals have cast serious questions about the past actions of our leaders, as well as whether what has occurred in their past hinders their ability to perform their constitutional duties, and that is troubling. However, I am confident that my Senate Republican 2 colleagues and I will continue to perform our duties for the remainder of the 2019 General Assembly Session to the fullest extent possible, because it is what the citizens of Virginia demand of us. Unfortunately, I foresee that what has currently befallen Virginia is a situation that will continue to get worse, before it gets better. It is heartbreaking to see that what is on the front page of every newspaper, and is the lead story of every nightly newscast, is the Northam/Fairfax/Herring scandal, and not the historic work that both the House and Senate have been doing for the people this year. But these issues should compel all of us, across every region of the Old Dominion, to have a serious and open conversation of what it will take to heal Virginia, to bring all people together to know that we are all created in God’s image, and that we are all in this, together. And, we must turn this conversation about race and respect into real solutions that will propel us forward into a more perfect future for Virginia, and the nation as a whole.
Much of the legislative agenda this week was consumed with negotiations and discussions about new budget amendments. As you may know, the Governor discussed his voluminous list of budget amendments during his January State of the Commonwealth address. Due to the inequity in the Virginia state tax code compared to the new federal tax relief for citizens, a surplus of nearly a billion dollars would pour into the Virginia treasury this year. Rather than return it to the taxpayer, the Governor proposed bigger government, more government spending, and additional tax hikes.
The Republicans in both the House of Delegates and the Senate believed differently, and developed measures to refund all of the tax revenues that came as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act last year, back to the tax payers, and not kept by the state government that did not earn it.
As of close of session on Friday, indications are that the Governor is in agreement with the full tax refund to our citizens, but the legislation requires the Democrat legislators to agree to passing the revised amendments as “emergency legislation” in order for tax payers to benefit in the refunds this year. A vote by both Chambers is scheduled to occur on Monday. Last week, the Democrats voted the “emergency legislation” down. Hopefully the Democrats will put the people first and their politics second. They can’t be against the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that passed last year and then insist on the spending the money that was generated as a result of that legislation. Simply put, the state Democrats cannot have it both ways.
On another note, I am very happy to report that my SB 1066 legislation was passed by the full
Senate this week. This bill is another measure of criminal justice reform of mine to try to right the wrong of being convicted for a crime that you did not commit. Too many injustices have occurred within our legal system as a result of faulty evidence. This injustice must be corrected. Lengthy incarcerations and in some instances, executions, have occurred to people who were innocent of the crimes charged, due to the use of “junk science” in court. My legislation SB 1066 takes a big step in correcting that wrong.
Forensic science that was used to wrongly convict the innocent is referred to as “junk science”. Unfortunately, the face of forensic science is multifaceted. Hair analysis, facial recognition, bite marks and other novel yet unreliable forensic techniques are just some of the types of junk science evidence that have been found to be faulty after further advances in forensic investigations have been made over time. While I am all for the use of competent and reliable forensic science as an important tool for law enforcement to solve crimes, I am very much against forensic science when it is proven to be faulty to convict the innocent. When the innocent is wrongly convicted, my SB 1066 provides for the remedy by granting a retrial. 3 Netflix has had the same concerns as mine regarding wrongful convictions, and coincidentally, has been producing an upcoming documentary focusing on those that have been wrongfully accused and convicted. One of the segments will cover the faulty use of forensic junk science. Netflix and the producers of the documentary found out about my proposed legislation, and sent their film crew to the Capitol to cover my junk science bill SB 1066 as it made its way through the legislative process here in the General Assembly. Even more interesting, the Netflix crew also introduced me to a man who was wrongly convicted with the admission of faulty junk science at his trial in Virginia, resulting in him spending over 33 years of his life in a Virginia penitentiary for a crime that he did not commit. That man is Keith Harward, and I felt it both fitting and appropriate that Mr. Harward share his story during the committee hearing in support of my legislation. He entered prison in 1983 as an innocent man, and was released after 33 years in 2016, because new DNA tests revealed that another man had committed the crime. But he had been wrongfully convicted solely by the use of “bite mark” evidence, that was later deemed to be unreliable. But for our limited “actual innocence” statute, he had no opportunity to challenge his conviction. If DNA had not freed him, he would not have been able to challenge his conviction, even though this bite mark evidence that had convicted him was later deemed to be faulty and unreliable science.
On Jan. 23, Neflix recorded him testifying to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee in support of SB 1066. Mr. Harward spoke less of his incarceration and more about the need for the State of Virginia to change the law to prevent another travesty of justice from occurring to someone else. His testimony was powerful and convincing. Since my presentation to the Courts of Justice Committee and the support of Mr. Harward’s testimony, SB 1066 has been approved by both the Courts of Justice Committee and the full Senate, and is now on its way to the House of Delegates. I credit much of the initial success of the legislation to the impactful testimony of Mr. Harward, and for that I am grateful, and wish him the best as he moves forward with his new life. It is incumbent upon all of us to make our imperfect system of justice better, because the greatest miscarriage of justice, as in his case, is to have an innocent person be deprived of their liberty due to the government’s use of unreliable science to obtain a wrongful conviction.
I had the honor of introducing him on the Senate floor; after telling his story to my fellow senators, the responded by giving him a standing ovation. For those that have a subscription to Netflix, the documentary will be on their menu in October 2019.
Thursday was a very special day for me. I was asked to be one of many speakers to address a “March for Life” rally of over 1,000 supporters on the steps of the Capitol. It was an honor for me to join other Pro Life speakers to share our personal stories and pledge our commitment to defeat the liberal left’s commitment to premit late term abortions, even at birth.
Thanks again to all of you who have made the trip to Richmond to share your thoughts and ideas about my new legislation and the workings of the legislature – information that is most helpful to me as I represent everyone in the 20th District. And while I am able to visit with many of you visiting our office, it is always not the case as I am always on the move between the numerous committee meetings that occur on a daily basis. In any event, I try my best to accommodate as many visits as possible! In my absence, my staff is more than happy to meet with you instead.
Our office is located on the sixth floor (E610) in the Pocahontas building directly across from the Visitor’s entrance to the Capitol on Bank Street.
To observe the Senate from the visitor’s Gallery while they are convened in the Senate Chamber in the Capitol building, please call our Office Administrative Assistant, JoAnn Lankford at 804-698-7520 or email JoAnn at email@example.com for information. The Senate is in Session every day beginning at noon before adjourning to Committee meetings for the remainder of the afternoon. Our office opens every morning at 8:30 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m.
Recently visiting our General Assembly office were:
Dr. William Sroufe, Division Superintendent, Stuart
I appreciate the visit from Patrick County School Superintendent Dr. William Sroufe when we discussed my School Modernization legislation.